Eyeing sixth term, Sikkim CM Pawan Chamling promises 100 years of life expectancy
Eyeing a record sixth consecutive term, chief minister and Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) chief Pawan Chamling has claimed his government is working towards a life expectancy of 100 years for the people of the tiny Himalayan state and earning a revenue of ₹2,000 billion from hydel power alone.
Sikkim is supposed to hold assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha polls in April-May. Out of the 32 assembly seats, the ruling SDF has 29 while opposition party Sikkim Krantikari Morcha has two. The lone independent MLA is Chamling’s younger brother.
The former kingdom of the Chogyals that became a part of India in 1975 has a population of 0.61 million, according to the 2011 census, and the size of its budget for 2018-19 is ₹70.51 billion.
“The life expectancy right now is 71 years, up from 60 years in 1994, when we came in power,” Chamling said on Sunday while kickstarting the campaign on the SDF’s foundation day with a 250-minute speech.
“In 25 years of our governance, the life expectancy has increased by 11 years. Our aim is to make sure every Sikkimese live at least 100 years,” he said.
Chamling also claimed the credit for “unparalleled success” his party has brought in Sikkim.
“Twenty-five years ago, our SDP was ₹4.4 billion ( ₹440 crore) and today it is ₹230 billion ( ₹23,000 cr). You can say that the development of Sikkim has increased by 5000%,” Chamling said.
“The visionary decision of my government to promote hydropower projects would annually fetch the state an annual revenue of ₹2 lakh crore ( ₹2,000 billion),” he said.
Though the chief minister did not specify by which year this revenue would flow in from electricity or how much revenue Sikkim earns from electricity now, officials said the target would be achieved in 20 years.
“The revenue from power varies from time to time. We have to calculate,” power secretary of Sikkim KB Kunwar said.
There are about 40 hydro projects in Sikkim, out of which six have been commissioned and producing 2,200-megawatt power. The rest are expected to be completed in five years.
Having taken over the reins of the state in 1994, Chamling is now the country’s longest-serving chief minister.
Chamling, however, is facing a tough challenge from the main opposition party Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) and newly-founded Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) set up by former India football captain Bhaichung Bhutia in June 2018.
“There is strong anti-incumbency factor against the ruling party. Pawan Chamling has been around for a quarter of a century and the youth expects change,” said Sonam Wangdi, former chief secretary of the state and author of books on Sikkim.
In August last year, when SKM leader PS Golay was freed from the prison after he was jailed for a year in a corruption case, unprecedented crowds gathered in Singtam in East Sikkim to congratulate him. The entry of Bhutia, who is an icon in the state, last year with his own party, has also added to Chamling’s trouble.
In the 2014 assembly polls, SDF won 21 seats while SKM won 10 while one seat went to an independent. Later, seven SKM MLAs defected and joined the ruling party. In 2017, there was a bypoll after SKM’s Golay was disqualified and the election was won by the ruling party.
In his speech, Chamling also claimed that Sikkim is the first state to give a job to every family.
In a move to woo the youth, Chamling recently recruited more than 12,000 men and women in government jobs and announced a decision to appoint 8,000 more as the state government’s ‘one family one job scheme.’
The SDF government is also distributing free laptops to about 50,000 students in plus two levels and colleges.
Both SKM and HSP leaders have accused Chamling and SDF of corruption. They have demanded that the awards of hydel projects must be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
“The state government is pumping money into many non-performing hydro projects. The government documents do not have any revenue head where it shows the revenue generated from the hydro projects,” Golay said as he slammed the chief minister’s claims.
“The CAG reports have time and again pointed out scams in hydropower projects. Chamling’s claim of ₹2,000 billion of revenue from power is a hoax. He failed to live up to his promises of a 24-hour free uninterrupted power supply and free electricity to the poor by 2015,” said Bhaichung Bhutia.
Golay and Bhutia have urged the youth of Sikkim to get rid of what they call the SDF’s regime as a “corrupt government”. On Saturday, Bhutia released his party’s manifesto promising the right to sports and prosecution of corrupt leaders if his party wins the polls.